The Aurora Borealis

February 22, 2011

From Der Spiegel:

The aurora borealis, or the northern lights, are seen in the sky above the village of Ersfjordbotn near Tromsø in northern Norway, early in the morning on Monday. Aurorae are caused by the interaction between energetic charged particles from the Sun and gas molecules in the upper atmosphere of the Earth, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) up. A stream of charged particles, called the solar wind, flows out into space continuously from the Sun at speeds of 400-500 kilometers per second. Upon reaching Earth, the charged particles are drawn by Earth’s magnetic field to the poles, where they collide with gas molecules in the upper atmosphere, causing them to emit light.

A very impressive photo!

Picture credit: web link above.

Ranking The Vulnerability To Revolution

February 21, 2011

From The Economist

BY PUTTING together a number of indicators that we believe feed unrest,and ascribing different weights to them, we have come up with a chart of Arab countries’ vulnerability to revolution. Some factors are hard to quantify and are therefore discounted; the data on unemployment, for example, were too spotty to compare. The chart is the result of ascribing a weighting of 35% to the share of the population that is under 25; 15% to the number of years the government has been in power; 15% to both corruption and lackofdemocracy indices; 10% for GDP per person; 5% for an index of censorship and 5% for the absolute number of people younger than 25.

The above ranking model was motivated by the table and information map below.

In the above, and although some factors are left out completely, it’s interesting how a rough mockup can give a quick and (hopefully) useful overview.

Perhaps the main outcome is to stimulate further thought and discussion – the article certainly prompted a lively set of comments on key factors!

Photo credits: top, middle and bottom.

Shannon McNally And “She Belongs To Me”

February 14, 2011

I’m a fan of Neal Casal and casually browsing came across an 8-track album “Ran On Pure Lightening” he released in 2002 that also featured Shannon McNally (someone I hadn’t heard of).

Investigating further I came across this impressive cover of Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me“.

The video, by Daniel Morrow, looks and sounds excellent in HD and full screen (click on full screen icon next to vimeo above).  Go here for more info.

More Shannon McNally videos here.

Knowledge Hotspots

February 10, 2011

Interesting infographic that (partially) represents innovation strengths and weakness of the UK compared to the rest of the world.

Quid, led by Oxford University graduate Bob Goodson, has identified those companies that have the potential to become the Pfizers of tomorrow. They have all convinced investors to back their ideas with cold, hard cash during the past three years – no mean feat given that venture capital investment has plummeted since the start of the financial crisis.

Quid has also identified where the UK has a disproportionately large concentration of companies exploiting certain technologies compared with the global picture and where the country has weaknesses.

Here’s how they went from the data (and where it came from) to the picture:

Quid, a data analysis and consulting firm, identifies technology clusters by generating sets of key words that best describe individual companies using algorithms to examine the text in thousands of their corporate documents, from patent filings to press releases.

It then crunches the data and creates a map connecting with lines companies whose key words are alike. The lines pull companies together and the more lines there are between companies, the more likely those companies are operating in a cluster. The result is a multidimensional industry map like the one shown here. It represents some 7,000 companies around the world in technology that have raised equity finance in the past three years. The UK-based companies are highlighted to differentiate them.

One of the tricky aspects of these data visualisations is the limitation to 2D or 3D representations whilst the actual problem space is multidimensional.

I did some research on this topic whilst a Research Fellow at the IBM UK Scientific Centre (which used to be in Winchester, Hampshire). Specifically, I investigated, with Tim Mullin and Anne Skeldon from the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford, the use of texture mappings to see more of the ‘hidden dimensions’. This got briefly written up in New Scientist.

Picture credit here.

The Ant Farm Story

February 9, 2011

Whilst making coffee this morning, I idly browsed a newspaper that was lying around. It happened to be open on the Obituary page and I started randomly reading about a certain Milton Levine who I had never heard of before, and quickly became fascinated.

There are many stories of unconventional ideas for successful large scale products but this one, an ant farm, I found quite hard to believe – I even double checked to see if it was a hoax of some form. As a niche offering I can understand it but 20 million sales is very impressive! Not so good for the ants used though as they all doomed to an early death.

From an innovation point of view I doubt if any number of company brainstorms would have come up with this as a viable commercial product. As sometimes happens, it’s one person who gets fascinated by something, wants to share this and then has enough enthusiasm to actually do something about it. It’s interesting that he started with small scale in mind but accidentally tapped into something quite extensive.

Here’s the part that caught my attention:

Levine got the idea for his ant farm at a Fourth of July picnic in Los Angeles in 1956 when he became fascinated by a colony of undertaker ants building towers, transporting crumbs and generally doing what ants do. Thinking that children would be fascinated by watching the ants, he developed a prototype “farm” using a clear plastic handkerchief box with a wooden base and filling it with sand. He then took some ants from a nearby field to populate his new world.

After placing an advert in a newspaper he found himself deluged with orders. Unable to meet demand, he eventually secured the services of a family of ant rustlers to collect red harvester ants in the Mojave Desert at one cent per ant. The breed was deemed best-suited for the ant farm because they are plentiful, are active in the daytime, are vegetarian, and do not thrive indoors if they escape.

Though the original sand was replaced with lighter volcanic gravel to make it easier to see the ants, the design of the farms remained largely unchanged until Levine’s son took over the business in the 1990s, when the ants had their digs upgraded with new modules. These included such novelties as tiny bungee ropes and ant-sized skateboarding parks. Half a century after Milton Levine’s Fourth of July picnic, more than 20 million ant farms had been sold.

All the same, some found the performance of the insects a mite disappointing. As federal law prohibits the shipment of the queen ants (which are necessary for a colony to survive), the colonies tended to be short-lived and, deprived of the pheromones that give the colony a purpose, sometimes seemed caught in an existential crisis. “After a while, they just start dying,” observed one reviewer. “They always bury their dead, and it gets a little sadder every day watching them haul the latest deaths off to where the other little bodies are. Finally there’s only one ant left, huddled up all by himself, with no one to bury him when he finally goes.”

Picture credit: top here and bottom here.

Nokia, R&D And ROI

February 4, 2011

Extract from here:

2010 was a hell of a year for Nokia. It barely maintained its position as the largest producer of mobile phones in the world; lost out to Android as the largest smartphone OS; had a mixed reaction to its flagship N8; installed its first non-Finnish CEO; saw its Q4 pre-tax profits fell by 22 percent and today we have learned that the Finnish company has spent almost $4 billion in research and development in 2010.

Research results by Bernstein Research has revealed that in 2010 Nokia’s Devices & Services department spent $3.9 billion on R&D which is around three times the average spent by its rivals such as HTC, RIM, Microsoft and Apple. When you look at the chart (see above) visualising the spending on R&D it becomes clear how much more the Finnish company is spending on new and emerging technology.

It’ll be interesting to see if this mammoth outlay delivers (over time) the required results – global innovation is a tricky business!

Update from Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Microsoft Corp. will pay Nokia Oyj more than $1 billion to promote and develop Windows-based handsets as part of their smartphone software agreement, according to two people with knowledge of the terms.

Nokia will pay Microsoft a fee for each copy of Windows used in its phones, costs that will be offset as Nokia curtails its own budget for software research and development, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the final contract hasn’t yet been signed. The agreement runs for more than five years, the people said.”

The Social Business Card

February 3, 2011

With the advent of so many places that you can have a professional web presence these days (for better or for worse), the next step is the social business card eg follr.

Overly complicated or not? The example in the picture above is fairly extreme of course. However I’m redoing my standard business cards at the moment and it ‘s quite hard to get all the information I want on it and to look good at the same time so having a link to a social card might in fact be quite handy.